In January of 1959, a New Orleans courtroom bursts into cheers and applause; their happiness is contagious. Spreading to the press, Tulane’s Campus, and eventually the whole city. 19-year-old Tulane University students John Farrell, Alberto Calvo, and James Drennan have just been acquitted for the murder of New Orleans tour guide Fernando Rios.
On September 29th of the year prior, Farrell, Calvo, and Drennan, the brothers of an undisclosed Fraternity at Tulane, found themselves on Saint Peter Street in downtown New Orleans. After a couple of drinks at Pat O’Brien’s bar, the trio decides to engage in the once respected tradition of entering a gay bar and rolling a queer (robbing a homosexual man). A common practice of southern fraternities during this time.
Farrell, Calvo, and Drennan, leave Pat O’Brien’s and begin their walk to Café Lafitte in Exile. The bar is roughly a four-minute walk from Pat O’Brien’s and sits at the corner of Bourbon and Dumaine. Established in 1933, Café’ Lafitte in Exile has served New Orleans as a space for LGBTQ+ individuals to socialize with one another. By the night of September 29th, 1958, the bar had well established itself as a haven for gay men living in New Orleans; one of which was Fernando Rios.
Farrell enters Café Lafitte and instructs his fellow fraternity brothers to wait in Pere Antoine Alley, which runs parallel to the bar. Cruelly, Farrell begins flirting with the man next to him: Fernando Rios. The two talk and drink together and then agree to spend the remainder of their night in a nearby hotel. Farrell suggests that the pair walk to the hotel and leads Rios to Pere Antoine Alley.
Once there, Farrell, Calvo, and Drennan beat Rios to death and rob him of his wallet. Leaving Rios’s corpse sprawled in the alleyway, the three retreat to the safe guise of Tulane’s campus. Eyewitness testimony will later reveal Rios was so badly beaten his face was no longer recognizable to those who knew him.
3 months later, January of 1959, Farrell, Calvo, and Drennan go on trial for the murder of Rios. The trio claims that Rios made unwanted sexual advances towards Farrell and in act of self- defense the three of them were forced to beat him. Sympathizing with the young men, the jury determined that they acted within their rights to defend themselves against unwanted homosexual advances.
Seamlessly, after the trial, the three young men; young murderers, return to their lives as innocents and enjoy the remainder of their Tulane University years with their fellow fraternity brothers. In both his life and death, Rios is granted no such privilege. Under the hateful eyes of the homophobic courtroom, Rios’s figure was reversed. He was, at once, the victim and the culprit of the hate crime which killed him.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) was published in 1952. At this time, the DSM diagnosed homosexuality as a “sociopathic personality disturbance.” It was not until the release of the second edition of the DSM, published in 1973, that homosexuality was removed from its diagnoses of personality disorders. The DSM served and continues to serve as a guideline for medical professionals of all kinds.
In 1949, Dr. Robert Heath founded Tulane’s Department of Psychiatry and Neurology and would continue to serve as Chairman of the department until 1980. Much of Dr. Heath’s work in the department, which was housed on Tulane’s campus, involved the implanting of electrodes into the brains of patients who suffered from schizophrenia and comparable mental illnesses. Heath discovered that depending on the location of the electrode within a patient’s brain, a different emotion of that patient could be manipulated.
Experimental in nature, Dr. Heath’s medical endeavors were the cause of much debate, but none so much as his work with Patient B19 during the late 1960s. Following an arrest for possession of marijuana and removal from the military, in an act of desperation, Patient B19 agrees to be Heath’s subject for a series of experiments regarding pleasure stimulation. B19 was chosen by Heath due to his prior drug addictions and engagements in homosexual activity.
In Tulane’s medical facilities, Heath drills through Patient B19’s skull, implanting multiple electrodes in his brain. Including the septal region, which controls his sense of pleasure. It is the purposes of Heath’s work to rid B19 of his homosexual desires by associating B19’s sensation of pleasure with the sight and touch of women.
Over the course of a month, Patient B19 would be forced to masturbate to heterosexual porn while Heath stimulated the electrodes in B19’s septal region, thus triggering the sensation of pleasure. Many of Heath’s experiments even required that B19’s septal region be stimulated over 1,000 times within an hour. According to Heath, this method proved effective, as B19 was able to achieve orgasm while watching heterosexual porn multiple times.
Hopeful this trend would continue, Heath requested that Tulane provide funding for a prostitute to engage in sexual relations with B19. The University agrees, and Heath hires a 21- year-old girl to work in the laboratory with him. Under Heath’s watch and stimulation control, B19 and the prostitute have sex to the point of B19 achieving orgasm. Content with this result, Heath releases B19 back into society as a confirmed heterosexual. At the same time, B19 was both the problem Dr. Heath was attempting to fix, and the problem’s solution. B19 himself was the illness and the remedy.
Reports would later reveal B19 to engage in homosexual relations roughly a year after his “treatment”. In 1985, many years after B19’s experimentation and release, Tulane would award Dr. Heath with an honorary degree from the University and create a Psychiatry and Neurology scholarship in his name. Ultimately, naming Heath a tormentor, but a triumphant one. A torturer, but a teacher.
In the year 2020, only 62 years after Tulane fraternities engaged in the practice of robbing and beating homosexual men, I, a homosexual man, was initiated into Tulane’s chapter of the Zeta Beta Tau Fraternity. I am Fernando Rios, and I am the Tulane Fraternity brothers who murdered him.
In the year 2018, only 49 years after Tulane University funded on-site gay conversion therapy, I, a homosexual man, was admitted to Tulane University. I am Patient B19, and I am the institution which funded his torment.
In the year 2000, only 27 years after homosexual acts were diagnosed as sane behavior, I, a homosexual man, was born. I am a homosexual, and I am the civilization which condemns him to insanity.
Max Cohen is The Crescent’s wonderful Senior Editor. He’s a senior double majoring in English and Communications with a minor in Political Science. When he’s not editing or writing articles, he enjoys exploring New Orleans and playing guitar.